The game is played from an isometric perspective, similar to that of SimCity 2000 (though there is a limited option to tilt the view, simulating a 3D camera). The player never has direct control of the events, but can order their team of agents (of which the player can hire up to nine) around the island and attempt construction, education or coercion. Each agent has different skills and stats that affect their performance (and which can be trained by trainers or by performing operations), and failure at some operations can result in their death.
Each island is a separate scenario, the map is randomly generated but generally has a set amount of resources, cities and villages and a conflict for the player to resolve - usually between the native people and external commercial or criminal interests - such as one scenario where the natives have begun growing narcotics, and a foreign drug cartel takes interest.
Exploring the island, the agents can find ancient ruins, endangered animals, isolated tribes, resources and odd special encounters. They can educate villagers which can help grow the village into larger settlements, use the villagers as labor for construction and resource gathering, and as the game progresses, establish mining, foraging or sawmill companies, run hotels, golf courses and harbors etc.
The music of Sim Isle was intended to be high quality RedBook CD Audio. The music was composed by Harry Holmwood, and recorded on 48khz 16 bit Stereo DAT tapes. For players who couldn't do a full install of the game (over 300 MB, which was fairly big by 1995 standards), a compressed version of the music in 22khz 8 bit Mono was created and stored among the game data, but somewhere in development the original DAT tapes were lost and the low quality mono version was used as the CD track instead.